This story was originally published by Meta.mk as part of its ongoing coverage of issues related to Generation Z. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and Metamorphosis Foundation.
During the coronavirus crisis, some young people in North Macedonia saw the opportunity to start their own businesses or to adapt their existing businesses to the new normal that was imposed by the restrictive measures against the coronavirus.
This is contrary to widely held positions that advocate apathy and emigration as solution for low level of economic opportunities in North Macedonia, in particular outside of the capital Skopje (which serves as the biggest local market for consumer goods). Analysis of youth underemployment conducted by the NGO Finance Think indicated that at 49 percent, the unemployment rate among youth in 2015 was almost double the national average of around 25 percent. A 2019 survey showed that 52 percent of youth considered leaving the state in order to make a decent living. According to Eurostat data for 2020, the overall unemployment rate has dropped to 16 percent, while youth unemployment remains very high at 29.5 percent.
Several studies by Finance Think show that the COVID-19 outbreak severely disrupted labour market conditions as lockdowns, closure of borders and movement restrictions contributed to reduced activity, interrupting supply chains, production and sale.
The stories that were told to Meta.mk by Teona Mango, Goran Bakrevski and Darko Milevski, entrepreneurs from Bitola, a city in the south of the country, provide examples of young people who have dealt with the crisis in a creative and positive manner.
Blogger Teona Mango is the founder of Beyond Green, an eco-friendly and sustainable fashion brand founded in 2020. Beyond Green's products аre made from ecological and sustainable materials, and the idea behind the brand is to promote an ecological and green way of life, while, at the same time, lowering production and the use of products that are polluting the environment.
Mango said that the pandemic also changed her shopping habits, and explained:
Живеев во Лондон до 2020 година, кога почна короната се вратив овде и останав непланирано веќе една година. Во карантин, како и сите, имав премногу време. Кога се вратив тука да живеам, забележав колку е ниска еко-свеста и колку немаме еко-одржливи производи, па така се роди идејата да започнам еко-френдли одржлив бренд. Вишок времето кое го имав, пак ми овозможи да истражувам и да најдам кои производи и кои материјали се најдобри, најодржливи.
I had lived in London until 2020 and when the coronavirus crisis started I returned here and and stayed unexpectedly for more than a year. During the quarantine, like everybody else, I had too much free time. When I returned here, I noticed the low eco-awareness and that we lack eco-sustainable products and this is how the idea to start an eco-friendly and sustainable brand came to be. The extra time I had gave me the space to research and find out which products and materials are the best and most sustainable.
“The people began shopping online instead of shopping in stores. Also, all of the products I purchased were bought from an e-store,” Mango explains.
Goran Bakrevski works as a dentist, but this profession was among the first that were harshly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that during the first three months of the pandemic he didn’t work at all, so he had enough time to dedicate himself to the production of BAK craft beer, which is “100% natural.”
Планови за развојот на семејната пиварница имавме и пред корона кризата, но работата ја убрзавме за време на ковид-19, бидејќи имавме доволно време. Брат ми е професор по музичко, но и тој беше дома. Во тој период активно работевме на вкусовите на пивата и подобрување на технологијата за производство. Луѓето не излегуваа, седеа дома, што беше одлична можност за тестирање на вкусовите на производите. Тогаш ја добивме поддршката од битолчани. Младите во тој период седеа на социјални мрежи каде што направивме индиректна реклама за производите.
We had had plans to develop the family brewery before the COVID-19 crisis, but then we sped up that work, since we had a lot of spare time. My brother is a music professor, so he was also at home. During that period we actively worked on the beers’ flavors and improvements in the production technology. The people didn’t go out, they were at home, which turned out to be an excellent opportunity to test the products’ flavors. That is when we gained support from the people in Bitola. The young people during this period were spending more time on social networks and we did some indirect advertising for our products in that period.
Darko Milevski is a former football player and his profession had always dictated his diet. He used to live in Sweden, but he returned to Bitola, where three years ago he opened the vegetarian and vegan restaurant Centar. His goal was to educate young people about healthy foods, but also to teach them return to their roots i.e. to make plant foods more present in the diet.
Кога фати корона кризата се појавија многу потешкотии и бевме затворени скоро пет месеци. Во 2020 година некако преживеавме, а во 2021 година беше важно да се продолжи. Изборот беше малку да се намалат ресурсите но да се продолжи со иста пареа. Затоа направивме ребрендинг затоа се создаде „21/10 Fast & Healthy“ што e take away за брза и здрава храна. Почнавме во мај, кога се уште постоеја рестрикции. Но ние и во такви рестрикции работевме бидејќи имавме само кујнa.
When the coronavirus crisis started, many difficulties arose and we were under lockdown for almost five months. We survived 2020 somehow, but in 2021 it was important to continue. We chose to reduce capacity, but to also continue full steam ahead. So we rebranded ourselves and we have created the 21/10 Fast & Healthy, a company offering healthy takeaway fast food. We started in May, when there were still restrictions. But even during those restrictions we worked, because the only thing we had to care about was the kitchen.
He pinpoints that the coronavirus crisis enticed them in the right manner to make some changes, since, as he says, we are all pretty static and have learned to operate in our comfort zones, so this crisis has only accelerated our efforts. Milevski is happy with the reaction of the people of Bitola and wants to spread his brand in other cities.
“The young people are researching the ways of nutrition and are slowly changing their eating habits,” concluded Milevski.